Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Getting Ahead of the Con Game

Confession in Plague-time: The Article 15
Michael Sedano

Note Found On the Internet:
In the last week I’ve received two emails from background check companies threatening to release reputation-damaging info if I don’t subscribe to their services. They’ve mentioned things that are true about me. 

It is the last Monday of ten weeks of Radio School at the Army’s Ft. Ord in 1969. Just a mile west, Barbara and I have breakfast at Cypress Knolls, then drive through Gate 3 in time for me to climb upstairs to my troop bay, put hospital corners on the bed I’d mussed up the night before, then join the platoon for the march to school--just like every day since Barbara surprised me by moving up here from Isla Vista.

We work a Plan to live a normal life together, like the Army is my day job. I go AWOL overnight, show up the next day nonchalantly falling in after chow, do the Army all day. At evening chow, I hastily rumple my bed then head downstairs where Barbara picks me up.

I go AWOL overnight. We will have these moments to remember.

When I boarded the bus for the Induction Center on January 15, I considered that the end of normal life, including "being married." I anticipated doing Basic Training, AIT, then getting shipped out to Vietnam.  Barbara and I would not have a life together until my two year hitch was up. I was sure I'd live.

I didn't anticipate my wife's determination to make us a future right now, the Army be damned.

When I start Advanced Individual Training--Radio School AIT--Barbara packs up in Isla Vista and finds us a shack in a converted farmworker colonia rented by Permanent Party at Ft. Ord, a dream job.  

We launch Plan A. She gets a part-time jale at May Co. With the Commissary and PX, we find ourselves living a good life, working the Plan.

Today, there’s a kink in the Plan, a First Lieutenant with a Lifer mentality. His shiny Opel sports car noses out of the Company Street just as I've parked. I lean over and grab Barbara in a passionate embrace like those scenes from a “B” movie where the villain ignores the beast with two backs. His quick thinking and subterfuge saves our good guy, and he gets to kiss the ingenue.

I feel the Lieutenant’s eyes boring into my windshield.

I hold the kiss. 

The 1LT holds his stare. 

I outwait him and the 1LT drives away in his fancy new Opel. It's safe to show my face on the Company Street. Barbara drives away and I begin my routine.

That evening, the class marches back from school to a halt between the chow hall and the company commander’s office. We turn to salute the flag, somewhere a bugle recording sounds Retreat, Dismissed. 

The company clerk calls me over. I’m in deep shit.

The Captain expresses hard-nosed sympathy that yes, I could get my ass blown up in Vietnam as early as next month. How long have I been going AWOL?

I’m tempted to play it up with the standard Radio School horror story, “Sir, if I’m in a magnesium radio van that gets hit with a tracer round and burns to the ground in seconds, all she’ll get is ashes and ten thousand dollars.” She deserves this time, it could be her only time with her husband in her entire life. The commander nods affirmation. Everyone loves that magnesium van story. Bam, flash!, fried commo guy.

The Captain and I banter back and forth. I won’t admit I’ve been AWOL every night for almost 10 weeks, and he doesn’t press the issue. The Hawaiian sergeant who does night guard duty tells me don’t think I’m pulling one off on him. He could get court-martialed, but he’s cool about that. FTA. 

We’re all co-conspirators and good friends, me and these teenagers in radio school. Next week, many will head to Ft. Benning for Special Forces school--Green Berets. Ave Atque Vale, my friends. 

Article 15 of the UCMJ is non-judicial punishment. The sympathetic Captain doesn't take my stripe, hits me with a $20 fine, and locks me down with extra duty. 

The company clerk tells me I lucked out with CQ runner duty. He hands me an envelope with stencils he’s typed out, the Captain’s signed.  As far as the Army is concerned, my Article 15 is fait acompli with the signature. A technicality leaves it to higher headquarters to promulgate the Order when Battalion runs off the stencils and sends copies to payroll and personnel.

“Take your Article 15 to Battalion H.Q.” the clerk instructs me in his broad Boston drawl. He briefs me on how the Army works and suggests I lose the envelope on the way to Battalion. A week later, I am on my way overseas. 


La Bloga Way-Back Machine

Snowy Ride Up the Mountain

(This 500-word memoir originally appeared on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. Revised.)


Costillas finds his grip on the truck’s canopy, and with his left boot on the rear bumper swings himself up into the rear of the deuce and a half.


“Anahash,” he greets the two Korean KPs hauling chow up the mountain. “Ne,” one says. The other looks away from the snowy landscape and pointing to the bench across from him, looks at Costillas and says something. “Mu-la me,” Costillas answers palms up, “No ara, mee un hum,” he apologizes for not understanding.


Specialist Fourth Class Miguel de las Costillas shivers in the penetrating cold despite his long johns, wool OGs, and fur-lined parka. He walks to the plywood box bolted to the floor against the cab. The foam rubber cushion would absorb a little of the violent jostling that punishes his kidneys and ass during the rough bounce up the mountain. No luck. Next to the chow cans, the cushion holds a green printed circuit board, and there is nothing Costillas can do. Missile repair parts have priority on any truck going up the mountain.


The California Chicano snuggles into the corner where heavy green canvas curves against the back of the cab. He imagines catching a hint of warmth off the exhaust pipe. “Yoboseyo!” the older KP calls. “Yoboseyo! Joe. Yogi. You yogi.” He points again to the empty bench across from the older Korean.


“Ne ne,” Costillas shakes his head that he understands the invitation. "Kamsamnida chingo, I stay here.” 

Costillas doesn't intend to sit at the open end of the deuce, where the cold wind and blowing snow suck into the truck. Worse, if that were possible, when the deuce and a half bounces off the primitive roadbed, gravity sends the shocks to concentrate there at the far end where the old KP pointed. Costillas’ back was a constant ache from the trip up mountain. 


Ski guns it and the truck speeds out of the Admin Area, a seven mile ride to the mile-high mountaintop missile site.


Wham! The truck bounces Costillas into momentary free flight that ends when his back crashes against the punishing steel canopy strut of the lurching truck. He bounces off sideways but manages to keep himself on the bench as gravity and inertia heap punishment and pain on him.


They are in the storm now. The two Koreans are sharp silhouettes against the blinding whiteness outlined by the canopy. Ski guns the motor at the third switchback. Something feels wrong. The truck slides sideways, Costillas feels weightless for a split second's panic. To furious spinning of wheels and grinding gears the truck slides backward toward infinite whiteness. The two Koreans coil their bodies in readiness to leap out. Costillas’ eyes bulge in sheer bloodcurdling terror. “Oh fuck, I’m not gonna make it. Damn it, menso. Damn it damnit.”


He should have been with his wife back in warm California, teaching class, going about his quotidian duties taking roll, ogling hippie chicks…not plunging off a mountain in a picturesque arc in the middle-of-nowhere.


Wham! The truck crashes into the side of the mountain and stops. The tires find traction, the chow truck lurches forward, Ski has them back on track. The three men explode in wild, genuinely happy laughter. They have beaten the mountain. They are invincible.

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